10 Great Things That Happened On TV This Year

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, December 26, 2017
Hardly anyone would call 2017 one of the great years of television, but there were still some memorable or even transcendent moments worth celebrating.  Here are my 10 favorite television memories from 2017:

10. Alex Bregman's hit from game five of the World Series. For the second year in a row, the World Series demonstrated why baseball, for all its mid-season languors, is the greatest game.  In a thrill ride of a series, the high point was the end of game five, an astounding five-hour-and-eleven-minute marathon that finally ended when Alex Bregman broke a 12-12 (!!!!!) tie with a 10th inning single.  How sorry I was that I wasn't awake to see this live — but how exciting it was to watch the replay the next morning.

9. "The Good Place" season finale. "The Good Place" is the smartest sitcom that's been on network TV in a long time — and I mean literally smart, since actual philosophers have endorsed its presentation of situational ethics.  Focused on a deceased woman who finds herself in heaven despite having lived a selfish life on earth, the longer the show goes on, the deeper it digs into the issue of what it means to live a good life.  Thanks to the great comedic acting of Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, “Good Place” is also very funny, but what gets it on this list is the conclusion of the first season, which contains one of the most surprising twists since Bobby's dream in "Dallas."



8. Tim O'Brien reads from “The Things They Carried” in Ken Burns' and Lynn Novick's Vietnam War documentary. Many groan when a new Ken Burns documentary comes out, because they are so long and so formulaic. Still, even if you sometimes feel like you're taking your medicine when you watch, the cumulative power of these documentaries is remarkable.  For baby boomers, the 18-hour Vietnam War documentary was more powerful than most Ken Burns offerings because we’d lived it. There were many searing moments, but perhaps the most memorable was the ending, which featured former soldier Tim O’Brien reading from his book “The Things They Carried.”  It was hard not to cry.

7. Eleven returns on "Stranger Things.” Two of the most widely anticipated TV events of the year were the return of "Stranger Things" and "Twin Peaks," both of which deployed the plot device of keeping a key protagonist exiled for most of the season.  The appearance of the super-powered girl named Eleven was the emotional high point of "Stranger Things," providing a tremendous catharsis because it had been denied us for eight episodes.

6. The jail scene in “Atlanta.” Donald Glover's "Atlanta" accomplished something unusual: the creation of a world never seen before on TV, in this case an unvarnished look at the African-American experience in Atlanta.  The show has so many funny moments, but perhaps the most hilarious was the night the Princeton-dropout protagonist spends in jail just trying to be as inconspicuous as possible.

5. Episode three of "Five Came Back.” The Netflix documentary “Five Came Back” explores the experiences of five hugely successful Hollywood film directors – John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens -- who volunteered to serve in World War II as documentarians and propagandists.  The whole series was great but the final episode, which covers the end of the war and the impact it had on the directors, is enormously powerful.

4. Jimmy Fallon's "Let's Dance" monologue on “Saturday Night Live.” This has been a tough year for Jimmy Fallon because his light and silly approach to late night TV has seemed out of step with the national all-politics-all-the-time zeitgeist.  But his beautifully choreographed dance through the halls of NBC was not only a terrific tribute to David Bowie but a case study of how taking a break from politics can be joyous and life-affirming.  Let's dance!

3. The last five minutes of Super Bowl 51. Whether you think these moments were "great" obviously depends on your affinity for the New England Patriots and Tom (the GOAT) Brady.  But even to a disinterested observer, this was pretty amazing TV.

2. The “La La Land”/“Moonlight” Academy Awards snafu. I’m not sure what compelled me to stay up to watch the end the end of the Oscar telecast this year, especially since a “La La Land” sweep seemed inevitable.  But I'm glad I did, so I could see the biggest TV screw-up of the millennium. I've rewatched this clip in Zapruder-like detail and sussed out the many villains and even a few heroes. But to make it even more satisfying, “Moonlight” was my favorite movie of the year.

1. The return of Special Agent Dale Cooper on “Twin Peaks.” "Twin Peaks: The Return" was arguably the most bizarre series that ever appeared on American television, seizing the crown from 1990's original "Twin Peaks."  And yet it was also the most mesmerizing thing to be on television in years.  The pace of the 2017 show was a master class in delayed gratification, with long languid scenes in which not a lot happened — most tortuously, episode after episode in which Kyle MacLachlan  appeared as anyone other than Dale Cooper.  Finally, in episode 16, he transforms from "Dougie Jones," the uncomprehending idiot savant, to Special Agent Cooper himself with the great line "I am the FBI."  What a glorious moment.

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